ERIKA SANZI – More together than we think

ERIKA SANZI – More together than we think

The danger of a single story is how it flattens people, places and cultures into a diminished and incomplete version of who and what they are. It turns them into caricatures. I have agreed wholeheartedly with this idea since I heard Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk about it, but the time I just spent in the cardiac ICU at Mt. Sinai Hospital brought her wisdom into much clearer and personal focus for me.

In recent months, the single story of New York City has seemed hopelessly bleak. It was the epicenter of the COVID crisis with sky-high nursing home deaths and those who were able fleeing for greener and less infected pastures. Then, night after night, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we saw a constant stream of stores being looted and city streets burning before our eyes. TV networks and online media made sure to provide a steady diet of extremes and flattened narratives, deliberately ignoring the complexities, contradictions and yes, even nuance, baked into the very raw and often painful interactions we were seeing. They were selling us a single story of rage, hopelessness and division.

But the story of New York City that I just saw with my eyes and felt in my heart was different. For starters, the surgeon we sought out to operate on my husband was there, a kind and compassionate man born and raised in middle America who is still providing unparalleled patient care well into his 70s. Teams of people representing every color, creed, and continent, working together to provide the best care they could for strangers, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, young and old.

I was witnessing humanity.

My morning and evening walks to and from the hospital were graced with friendly greetings from the guys hosing down the sidewalks, the doormen standing outside the buildings, and the construction workers and painters sitting on the stoop to take a break. The Middle Eastern man who sold coffee, pastries and bananas out of a small food truck near the hospital exuded warmth as he did his best to convince me to buy a danish with my coffee. I told him I’d take three bananas instead.

The cardiac ICU nurse, Karla, from the Philippines; the physical therapist from India; the nurses from Nigeria, Mexico and the Bronx; the nursing assistants, the security team, the food service workers – most didn’t look like me, all treated me with kindness and helped me when I needed it. And we laughed together.

Cable news, major television networks and papers of record want us to believe that everybody is angry, that our differing immutable traits mean we can’t get along, that we are hopelessly fractured. We are not. Yes, we have big problems to solve and bold actions to take if we are to bend that long arc of the moral universe toward justice. It won’t bend without work from all of us.

But we are more together than we think. Don’t believe me? I’ve got a hospital in New York to show you.

Sanzi is a former educator and school committee member who writes about education at Project Forever Free, Good School Hunting and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.